If you were to ask a hockey fan from Russia who the greatest Russian/Soviet player ever was, the answer, without hesitation, would be Valeri Kharlamov. In Russia, Kharlamov enjoys legendary status among hockey fans. His legend is so great that some question whether he was as talented as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. He is the idol of almost every young Russian hockey player. Ilya Kovalchuk wore Valeri Kharlamov’s #17 in the NHL, and Evgeni Malkin wears the reverse, #71. No Russian player wears Kharlamov’s #17 in international games (other than the World Juniors), and for awhile, nobody did in the Russian domestic league.
Other than fellow Soviet Vladislav Tretiak, Valeri Kharlamov is the only player to be elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame without playing a single NHL game. He is also a member of the IIHF Hall of Fame, Russian Hockey Hall of Fame, and was selected to the IIHF Centennial All Star Team.